HRW's clear failures- both moral and evidentiary -have increased the criticism and close examination of bias that has been slowly mounting over the past decade. This once respected organization has been forced on the defensive for its obsessive attacks on Israel, in which the context of terror and aggression have been systematically erased. And while Israel is the favorite target, real human rights abuses in Burma and deadly conflicts such as in Sri Lanka are largely ignored.
In September 2007, more than one year later, HRW issued two detailed reports, together over 400 pages, which were designed to defend its statements during the war, and restore Roth's status as an accepted arbiter of ethical issues. While these reports include many unacknowledged retreats from the bombastic allegations made during the war, the transparent objective is to defend HRW, particularly among Jewish donors who are also support Israel's basic right to self-defense.
Today's oped is more of the same, repeating much of the incongruous logic, tired rhetoric and false assertions. Roth begins by comparing Hezbollah (which he calls "an armed group" - the word terrorist is not part of his vocabulary) with the Government of Israel - both of which, he claims, failed to welcome HRW's ostensibly moral and unbiased assessment. As in the past, Roth's moral blinders fail to distinguish between Israel's democracy and Hezbollah illegal terrorist state within Lebanon. He revels in being threatened by Hezbollah and forced to cancel a press conference in Beirut - an event that no one with any understanding of the situation expected to place.
Under this immoral and distorted logic, Roth moves to the sins allegedly committed by the IDF, which, he pontificates, was also "reluctant to confront the facts" (or at least HRW's version). Having dispatched "research teams" which examined "94 attack sites representing roughly half of civilian deaths", Roth again asserts that there was no Hezbollah presence, and therefore no justification for Israeli military action. But these researchers (often consisting of one HRW official and an unnamed translator on which he was entirely dependent) and the "findings" (based largely on such scientific methods as reports of "martyr" markings on graves to distinguish fighters from civilians) are no more credible than the "eyewitness" reports issued during the war. Anyone reading HRW's reports will see that most of the sources cited for the number of Lebanese civilians are Hezbollah's assertions. And while Roth claims exceptional skill at assessing eyewitness testimony, the evidence points the other way many of the claims in the latest reports are in complete contradiction to earlier eyewitness reports. And Roth's frequent references to the "laws of war", which he claims were violated repeatedly by the IDF, are his own arbitrary interpretations, based on and filtered through personal agendas.
In contrast, where the evidence does exist, Roth and HRW often choose to ignore it. HRW's August 3, 2006 "Fatal Strikes" report issued in the middle of the war claims to have found "no cases" of Hezbollah's use of human shields. In contrast, Hassan Nasrallah - the leader of Hezbollah's openly declared "'[The organization's operatives] live in their houses, in their schools, in their mosques, in their churches, in their fields, in their farms, and in their factories.' " And of course, the HRW "research teams" visiting under close Hezbollah guard were not able to check for evidence of rocket storage in these civilian structures. As a result, in contrast to the stark condemnations alleged IDF violations, the language on Hezbollah is tolerant and even apologetic. "While we documented cases where Hezbollah stored weapons inside civilian homes or fired rockets from inside populated areas, our investigations to date suggest relatively few cases where Hezbollah might have specifically intended to use the presence of civilians to shield itself from counterattack-certainly not enough to constitute a widespread or systematic pattern."
Such tendentious publications, when added to the voluminous record during the 2006 war and over the past decade, demonstrate the degree to which ideological agendas mixed with low levels of professional competence have denigrated the moral standing of human rights. While the IDF should and must be held accountable for its actions by the citizens of Israel, including human rights violations when they occur, HRW's political reports and campaigns only serve to further undermine the moral foundations of universal human rights.
Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive Director, NGO Monitor
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